This is a place where we make dreams happen. It’s the most inspiring and complex school I know.” Yuval Dvir speaks passionately about Givat Haviva International School (GHIS), which, as headteacher, he has presided over since its opening last year.
Yuval is equally fascinating when talking about his 55 students, aged 16 to 18, whom he describes as “open-minded, curious, passionate and cool”.
I’m taking a tour of GHIS – based an hour north of Tel Aviv – and soon see what Yuval means. This place is different from other secondary schools.
For a start, its goal is to create future world leaders, with conflict resolution, leadership development and social entrepreneurship on the curriculum alongside the academic international baccalaureate (IB) qualification.
Then there’s the school’s setting: the Givat Haviva Coexistence Centre, dedicated to achieving harmony in Israel. Its modern building is surrounded by beautifully-manicured gardens, with a “peace sculpture” to greet visitors as they enter. It’s also an international school: Year 11 and 12 students from around the world come here to live and learn together.
The student body is 50 percent Israeli, divided equally between Jews and Palestinians, and 50 percent from 16 other countries. They study, volunteer and hang out together, despite their wide-ranging backgrounds.
The year 11 students I meet are diverse, impressive and remarkably self-possessed. There’s Christina from South Sudan, who applied for the school via Facebook, while her friends were being married off at 15. She sits with Diana, a fiercely intelligent girl from Kazakhstan, who says: “I grew up with no father. I thought I was stuck. But I taught myself English in a year so I could study somewhere where I could get a high school education, learn how to solve conflicts and start changing the world. My dreams have begun to become true. Now I have the skills not just to dream, but to act.”
As befits a school set in a coexistence centre, encouraging dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian students is high on the agenda.
Wahid grew up in an Arab Muslim village and says the school has transformed his world view.
“Interacting with ‘the other side’ was never an option growing up,” he says. “I thought communicating with Jews would be a real challenge, but slowly I found I could build friendships and learn to love [them]. I’ve found a peaceful platform to express my ideas.”
The sentiment is shared by Wahid’s Israeli classmates, including Avi from Modi’in. He tells me: “My time at GHIS has been transformative. At first I was worried I wouldn’t be accepted by everyone, because I was the only religious Jew. But I’ve become friends with Palestinians, Israelis from almost all religious backgrounds, and people from all over the world. The experience has helped me understand other perspectives and people.”
Former Londoner Clare King Lassman works in development and external affairs at Givat Haviva and is part of its founding team. She says her team looks for students “who are curious, able to thrive in a close-knit community and want to make a difference in the world”.
Although there aren’t currently any pupils from the UK, the school is recruiting for them. In fact, Yuval issues this striking clarion call: “We want UK students. The UK is facing a radical social crisis. It needs young leaders who are trained in shared society leadership, leaders, who can offer a paradigm shift for British society.”
That may sound alarming, but the GHIS team is focused on bringing about positive solutions through leadership and many of the students are already aiming to lead change in their home country after university. Diana says: “I have big plans. I want to go back to Kazakhstan to share my knowledge, to help women and children like me.”
Christina is already causing waves in her homeland. She tells me: “When I came here, I opened up doors for girls back home to be educated. Other parents are saying, ‘Why don’t we send our girls to school too?’ I’m a model for change. I’m showing that you don’t have to get married at 15. My parents are so proud.”
While it sounds idyllic, coexistence also takes effort and understanding, according to the students. It also presents an opportunity to grow and mature, as Noga says: “Living in a community can be tough. You have to deal with your issues. If I fight with someone, I’ll see them in class. I have to deal with it.”
That’s one of the many reasons why Clare is so enthusiastic about GHIS. “It’s a great privilege to work here,: she says. “Our country is so incredibly divided. Living and learning together breaks down barriers and creates powerful friendships. This is the way it should be.”
- Applications for GHIS are now open. Details: gh-is.org